It's A Wonderful Life
It was nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Picture and has been recognized by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 best American films ever made, and one of the most inspirational American films of all time.
It's a Wonderful Life is a 1946 American Christmas fantasy drama film produced and directed by Frank Capra, based on the short story and booklet The Greatest Gift, which Philip Van Doren Stern wrote in 1939 and published privately in 1943. The film is one of the most beloved in American cinema and has become traditional viewing during the Christmas season.
The film stars James Stewart as George Bailey, a man who has given up his dreams to help others, and whose imminent suicide on Christmas Eve brings about the intervention of his guardian angel, Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers). Clarence shows George all the lives he has touched, and how different life in his community of Bedford Falls would be if he had never been born.
Despite performing poorly at the box office due to stiff competition at the time of its release, the film has become a classic and is a staple of Christmas television around the world.
Theatrically, the film's break-even point was $6.3 million, about twice the production cost, a figure it did not come close to achieving on its initial release. An appraisal in 2006 reported: "Although it was not the complete box-office failure that today everyone believes ... it was initially a major disappointment and confirmed, at least to the studios, that Capra was no longer capable of turning out the populist features that made his films the must-see, money-making events they once were."
It's a Wonderful Life is now considered one of the greatest films of all time. It was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and has been recognized by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 best American films ever made, as number 11 on its initial 1998 greatest movie list, as number 20 on its revised 2007 greatest movie list, and as number one on its list of the most inspirational American films of all time. Capra revealed that it was his personal favorite among the films he directed and that he screened it for his family every Christmas season.
On Christmas Eve 1945, in Bedford Falls, New York, George Bailey contemplates suicide. The prayers of his family and friends reach heaven, where Clarence Odbody, Angel 2nd class, is assigned to save George, in return for which he will earn his angel wings. To prepare him for his mission, Clarence is shown flashbacks of George's life. The first is from 1919, when 12-year-old George saves his younger brother Harry from drowning, losing the hearing in one ear in the process. At his after-school job, George prevents disaster after realizing that the druggist, Mr. Gower, has accidentally added poison to a prescription.
In 1928, George plans to leave on a world tour and then enter college. At Harry's high-school graduation party, George is reintroduced to Mary Hatch, who has had a crush on him from childhood. They are walking home when news arrives that George's father, Peter, has had a stroke; Peter Bailey soon dies. George postpones his travel so he can sort out the family business, Bailey Brothers' Building and Loan. Henry F. Potter, the richest (and meanest) man in town, wishes to dissolve the Building and Loan to eliminate it as a competitor. The board of directors voted to keep the Building and Loan open, on condition that George stays on to run it (along with his absent-minded uncle Billy). George gives his college tuition to Harry on the condition that Harry takes over the Building and Loan when he graduates.
Four years later, in 1932, Harry returns from college married and with a job offer from his father-in-law. Although Harry is ready to honor his commitments to George and the Building and Loan, George learns that the job has excellent prospects and will not allow his brother to turn it down.
As a result, George never does leave Bedford Falls but ends up falling in love with Mary and they marry.
On their way to their honeymoon, though, they witness a run on the bank and use their $2,000 honeymoon savings (equivalent to $39,000 in 2018) to keep the Building and Loan solvent and out of Potter's control until the panic subsides.
Eventually, George establishes Bailey Park, a development of modest houses financed by the Building and Loan that offers homeownership in contrast to rentals in Potter's overpriced slums. The unscrupulous Potter attempts to lure George into becoming his assistant, offering him $20,000 a year (equivalent to $280,000 in 2018); George is momentarily tempted but realizes Potter's true intent is to shut down the Building and Loan, and rebukes him.
During World War II, George is ineligible for service because of his deaf ear. Harry becomes a Navy pilot and earns the Medal of Honor by shooting down a kamikaze plane headed for a troop transport.
On Christmas Eve morning 1945, as the town prepares a hero's welcome for Harry, Uncle Billy goes to the bank to deposit $8,000 (equivalent to $110,000 in 2018) of the Building and Loan's cash.
When Potter enters, Billy taunts him by grabbing the newspaper out of his lap and reading the headline about Harry aloud. Billy returns the newspaper to Potter but unintentionally wraps the envelope with the cash in it.
When the teller asks him for the money for the deposit, Billy discovers that he has misplaced the cash.
Potter discovers the envelope, and seeing an opportunity to ruin the Baileys and finally quash the Building and Loan, says nothing. When a bank examiner arrives to review the Building and Loan's records, George realizes that scandal and criminal charges will follow.
After retracing Billy's steps without success, George berates him, then goes home and takes out his frustration on his family.
George desperately appeals to Potter for a loan and offers his life insurance policy with only $500 in equity (equivalent to $10,000 in 2018) as collateral. Based on the policy's $15,000 nominal value, Potter says that George is worth more dead than alive and phones the police to have him arrested. George gets drunk at a local bar and prays for help, then, contemplating suicide, goes to a nearby bridge.
The film's narrative catches up to the time of the opening scene. Before George can jump, Clarence dives into the river, causing George to rescue Clarence rather than kill himself. George does not believe Clarence's subsequent claim that he is George's guardian angel.
When George says he wishes he had never been born, Clarence decides to grant his wish to show George an alternate timeline in which he never existed. In this alternate timeline, Bedford Falls is named Pottersville and is dark and corrupt. Mr. Gower, the druggist, has recently been released from prison for manslaughter because George was not there to stop him from putting poison in the pills.
The Building and Loan have long since closed down, as George never took over after his father's passing. George's mother does not know him; she reveals that Uncle Billy was institutionalized after the Building and Loan failed. In the cemetery where Bailey Park would have been, George discovers Harry's grave; Clarence explains that the soldiers on the transport ship died because Harry was not there to save them since George was not alive to save Harry from drowning. When George seeks out Mary, who never married, and claims he is her husband, she screams for the police. George flees and the local policeman gives chase.
Now convinced that Clarence really is his guardian angel, George runs to the bridge and begs for his life back; the alternate timeline changes back to the original reality.
George, now grateful for the life that he has, rushes home to await his arrest. Mary and Uncle Billy arrive, having rallied the townspeople, who stream in and donate more than enough to cover the missing $8,000, causing the town sheriff to rip up George's arrest warrant.
Harry arrives and toasts George as "the richest man in town". A bell on the Christmas tree rings, and the youngest daughter, Zuzu, says that the sound means that an angel has just earned his wings, signifying Clarence's promotion.
- James Stewart as George Bailey
- Donna Reed as Mary Hatch
- Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Potter
- Thomas Mitchell as Uncle Billy
- Henry Travers as Clarence
- Beulah Bondi as Mrs. Bailey
- Frank Faylen as Ernie
- Ward Bond as Bert
- Gloria Grahame as Violet
- H. B. Warner as Mr. Gower
- Frank Albertson as Sam Wainwright
- Todd Karns as Harry Bailey
- Samuel S. Hinds as Pa Bailey
- Mary Treen as Cousin Tilly
- Virginia Patton as Ruth Dakin
- Charles Williams as Cousin Eustace
- Sarah Edwards as Mrs. Hatch
- William Edmunds as Mr. Martini
- Lillian Randolph as Annie
- Argentina Brunetti as Mrs. Martini
- Bobby Anderson as Little George
- Ronnie Ralph as Little Sam
- Jean Gale as Little Mary
- Danny Mummert as Little Marty Hatch
- Georgie Nokes as Little Harry Bailey
- Sheldon Leonard as Nick
- Frank Hagney as Potter's Bodyguard
- Ray Walker as Joe (Luggage Shop)
- Charlie Lane as Real Estate Salesman
- Edward Kean as Tom (Bldg. & Loan)
The Bailey Children
In December 1946, James Stewart, who played George Bailey in the film wrote to Van Doren Stern, calling the story "an inspiration to everyone concerned with the picture ... the fundamental story was so sound and right."
Philip Van Doren Stern was born in Wyalusing, Pennsylvania into a family of humble means. His Pennsylvania-born father, Isadore Ullman, was a traveling merchant of Bavarian Jewish descent, who came to Wyalusing from West Virginia with his New Jersey-born wife, the former Anne Van Doren. Stern grew up in Jersey City, New Jersey and, Brooklyn, New York and attended Lincoln High School in Jersey City before graduating from Rutgers University
Liberty Films was an independent motion picture production company founded in California by Frank Capra and Samuel J. Briskin in April 1945.
It produced only two films, the Christmas classic It's a Wonderful Life (1946), originally released by RKO Radio Pictures, and the film version of the hit play State of the Union (1948), originally released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Liberty Films' logo was the Liberty Bell ringing loudly.
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